Introduction to Strangers
Is it really only the lighting, exposure, orientation and camera equipment that make the photo, or is it more?
In a flurry of artistry and creativity, and without thought, ideas spew effortlessly from deep inside each individual involved. How magical it is to experience the mental and physical rush of combining efforts to create an exquisite moment and an exquisite image.
Imagine this: The People demand a cure for a disease and The Scientist, having realized the need for a cure spends years observing the changes of one particular Specimen through the eye piece of her microscope.
Each day The Specimen in the petri dish is manipulated. It’s complex structure is broken down and built back up until finally The Specimen becomes the cure.
For our own purpose let The People represent the public eye and let’s call the disease boredom, loneliness, low self esteem, voyeurism, or a combination of all. Let our Scientist be the individual holding a camera and expertly capturing moments belonging to our Specimen which is just another name for our human subject in front of the camera’s lens willing to expose their soul to the publics eye.
Who or what is of the most importance? Is it the people? The disease? The specimen that became the cure? She who founded the cure
Who or what is or should be seen with higher regard? The answer seems simple, but is it?
A photograph containing a human subject is not only created by the photographer alone. A subject stands vulnerable in front of the lens bearing skin, mannerisms, thoughts, style and soul to the hungry audience - this takes guts.
And so the complex ideas of intellectual property and creativity as a whole - concepts that I’ve been quietly mulling over for years and years (almost all of the words written above, were written in 2011), becomes the driving force behind Strangers.
I’ve had my photograph taken for many years, over a decade now, by countless phenomenal photographers like David Luraschi, Cassandra Wages, Rob Williamson, Kava Gorna, Lanakila MacNaughton, Aeschleah DeMartino, Nina Robinson and Darcy Rogers (just to name a few). While I never considered myself a model, rather a subject, I found myself not only collecting these images of how people might remember me when I am no longer here but also fully immersed in the creative process that goes on behind the lens.
As their subject I gained a wealth of knowledge in the photographic language, aquiring skills people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn in art school. I soaked up anything and everything, from lighting and composition to set styling or capturing a moment as it exists to location scouting and editing skills. I owe many thanks to every photographer that ever placed me in front of their lens for more than just the reasons above.
I still would never call myself a photographer and in fact, would never call myself a model. I am an artist.
Which brings me to Strangers, a concept reignited while having a stranger take my photograph one exhausting day in The Philippines.
I hadn’t slept and had walked for hours in the heat with a red velvet cake. As I passed a wall that had caught my eye each time I passed it by, I knew that there was a moment here that had to be captured and I simply couldn’t capture it myself. I wanted an image that not only encapsulated my exhaustion but also married it with the aesthetics of the wall and the strange juxtaposition of the cake in the beautiful blue and white, ribbon tied box. I needed a photographer.
"Can I ask you a strange favor?" I handed her the camera, "Would you mind taking my photo."
She seemed confused and rather uninterested and why should she have been? She was taking a photo of a stranger against a wall she had never thought to look at twice but she humored me anyway.
I leaned against the wall and envisioned the final version in print and watched as she carelessly pressed the button. The camera appeared to be at a slight angle and I personally like neat lines.
"I’m sorry, would you mind taking another?" I asked, assuming the first shot would be immediately edited out due to her lack of care.
Seemingly a bit annoyed she took another and unfortunately I still didn’t trust that we had captured the moment. We had come this far, I couldn’t lose this moment. I would never be here again, in the Philippines, feeling this way, with a cake leaning against this wall it simply had to be perfect. Why didn’t she understand that?
"I am really, really sorry. One more please?"
"I’m running late. I have to go." She handed the camera back to me and walked quickly up the block to meet a man that was waiting patiently for her.
I was embarrassed (because I had been so demanding of a stranger) and sad (because I assumed the moment I had envisioned in my head was lost forever) but somehow exhilarated (by collaborating with a complete stranger to try and complete this vision).
I grieved the loss of the moment, released it and came to terms with holding it in my memory instead but then, the developed film came back and the result was incredible. This Stranger, captured everything. She captured it better than I could have ever captured myself. Why? Because everyone sees something different and not one way is right. The meeting of the minds brings more to the table then could ever be imagined by just one individual. What I was reminded of that day is that you must remember to have faith and trust in other people’s visions in addition to believing in yours, allowing inspiration to flow between all parties.
Strangers is what I’m calling this series.
In this series my intuition brings me into the presence of an individual (i.e. a girl at the coffee shop, a Tarot Reader in Oakland or a lover I’ve just begun to know) and when I feel it’s right, I ask them to take my photo. They get to direct, they get to take charge and I am simply there as the subject to inspire and perhaps tie together my vision of this grander project which will include many, many imperfect, and therefor perfect, portraits of me at my best and at my worst as well as in between. These strangers will see me as they wish and I will ask them, if willing, to write some sort of statement or a written piece of any length with a prompt similar to this given to my first Stranger, a girl at the coffee shop one morning:
"Thanks for starting the series with me! Send me a story each - could be whatever you want but preferably something related to photography, art, creativity, existence, the meaning of life or coffee!"
You would be surprised how much people crave inspiration and a reason to write, take a photograph, quickly style a location, move a piece of hair from someone’s eyes. I simply hope that this project inspires complete strangers to activate their creativity which will in turn spark the creativity of others, much like my time as a subject many years ago inspired me.
Amendment to Strangers
An LA based writer for Forbes, Vice and other outlets tweeted about my Introduction to Strangers post connecting it with the ever so popular, and only very recently written about, concept of the selfie. James tweeted, “When Strangers take your Selfie” and linked to my Introduction.
Initially conflicted as to whether I personally found this reference to be a knock, or an apparent truth, I chose to marinate on it and instead followed him on twitter. He followed up with a secondary post:
@celissemuller as an apparent selfie expert, but more importantly, as a human, your project is of deep interest to me. very discerning…
I am a fan of grammar and the English language - “deep interest" and his use of the word, "discerning," to describe my very first, very vulnerable project, convinced me that the original tweet was in no way a knock. Or maybe it was. I wasn’t sure yet and I didn’t much care. A tweet is a tweet is a tweet, that other people see and tweet - so, I got his email and we corresponded a bit before I wrote to him with this:
First, thank you. So much. For even looking at my stuff (whatever it is). I never expect that anyone does and if they do I never assume they’ll like it.
It’s too bad to have missed you, your obviously a stranger that I should know. It’s hard to explain what I am but some have called me an enigma, a taste maker, a curator. I just think of myself as an artist. I do many things, I write, I take photos, I ride a motorcycle, I manage, coordinate and inspire people, I’m a stylist, a lover, an adventurer, a good friend and family member, a subject. I simply can’t find a name for what I do yet but I’ve started to think of it as a bit of a life artist.
I sat on most of that writing for three years, like most of my writing because I was too concerned with what other people would think of me but I just don’t give a fuck anymore.
The project itself really isn’t about selfies at all, however #isupportyourselfie and anyone else’s including my own and I could talk endlessly about them since I’ve been taking them since I was 16. Anyway, this is really more about the digital age and perpetuation of loneliness. I just watched an insane video that really broke it down. I’ll find it and link you. People don’t talk to each other anymore, they sit in a coffee shop and stare at their screen (don’t get me wrong, I love that too) but the goal of this is to get people engaged with me eye to eye, human to human. I want them to look into my soul, I want them to be handed the key (the camera) to unlocking it and I want them to walk away with an assignment that asks for their own thought and creativity.
I would love to describe to you in depth my experience with my first strangers. Very powerful. I’m still agonizing about how to present it. I’m so used to posting daily that I want to post them as they are ready but I also want to test myself in restraint and see if I can go all year collecting them and releasing them at once. I would love your thoughts.
You seem great! Let’s be friends!! Tell me about you!
If there was any sarcasm in the original tweet I hoped that sharing with him my genuine interest, in him personally, as well as expressing the kindness towards humanity that I legitimately feel, would help win him over - if he wasn’t already won (my mind can go to negative places if I let it).
I realized then that James had helped me further along the project itself. An amendment to the project description was born. Now made strikingly clear, there was additional, important and meaningful motivation within Strangers that not only made me all the more inspired but gave the project all the more depth and purpose for me personally.